Today I found a blog by Rob Triggs on the craft of writing descriptions and I have shared it on my blog below. (For some obscure reason he titled his World Leader Pretend.) I very much like his numerous examples of how ‘less is more’ when trying to evoke a picture. But I do not agree that this occurs because human beings are stupid!
Far from it. Human beings have the most extraordinary brains. Yes, even the stupidest among us have computer power in our grey matter that cannot be imitated by the most sophisticated artificial intelligence (at least, not yet…) And one of the most striking aspects of this human intelligence is our swift ability to make connections, draw on associations, and go beyond what is being said to understand the full meaning.
The successful writer does not underestimate her reader.
Of course, it is true that not everyone will understand all the nuances in every piece of writing, and it is self-evidently true that some of us are less intelligent than others. But the words of our language are replete with meanings that every native speaker knows, often without the first inkling that she does.
Just to take one example: family. That word by itself automatically evokes thoughts and, more importantly, feelings in all of us. They may be positive, warm feelings, or they may be emotions of anxiety, anger, distress, depending on our personal experience of family. But a skilful writer will use such a word knowing that her readers are unconsciously feeling a multitude of powerful emotions, all of which contribute to the understanding of what is written. Said skilful writer may deliberately signpost the direction she wishes the reader to take, by adding a small selection of emotive words (positive or negative, light or dark) and all but the most deeply depressed by that one word will find themselves guided to interpret the writing as the writer intended.
This is why I found Rob’s blog so interesting and useful. In fact, he appears to be right in everything he says except that assumption that readers are somewhat dim. No one would follow his examples if they were not really rather clever.
Writing is a skill well worth the trouble of developing. Demagogues, who sound as though they rant and rage, use this skill, gain their following by knowing how to manipulate a crowd’s emotions. And perhaps that is why Rob used the title he did. Hitler was a master of emotive language. But so too was Tolstoy. A better guide to the good use of language, I think.